The Supreme Court refusal to alter a lower-court ruling that the Drakes Bay Oyster Company must finally close its Point Reyes business draws attention to that marvelous seashore and landscape beloved by so many Bay Area residents. The Supreme Court can sometimes do the right thing.
I well remember at the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore the proviso that the new park would come into existence through the federal buyout of property owners (residents, ranchers and the oyster business) with generous lag times to soften the rude demands of eminent domain. The buyouts were accomplished (money changed hands) years ago, yet these businesses continue as usual.
Those enlightened original conditions are now being reset with the effort to make beef and dairy operations permanent additions to the landscape. The European invasion of this side of the continent over just the last 200 years is obviously a done deal. This fact makes it especially necessary to complete that original mandate of the park's creation by removing the ranchers and their bovine accoutrements and re-establishing a natural area in which we may only be visitors.
Those ranches are not benign reminders of the old days of California's settlement process. Instead, their ceaseless utilization of that peninsular soil has altered every cow-accessible portion of the land. Cow grazing, excretion and trampling have severely depleted and distorted the native California flora, encouraged the establishment of invasive species, and polluted surrounding salt and fresh waters with its runoff.
Point Reyes visitors can also witness the plowed fields planted with timothy and other exotics for cow feed and silage production, appreciate at cow-elk fence lines the amazing difference between how these two herbivores use the landscape, and how exotic annual plants have uniformly pushed back native bunch grasses and wildflowers that made up the original coastal prairie and chaparral. Most of these rangeland and pasture outcomes are not anything unusual for ranch and farm agriculture, but Point Reyes is not privately held.
The grazing of domestic animals is often promoted as a way to take advantage of otherwise useless wildlands, that is, convert pointless landscapes into milk and meat for human consumption. Point Reyes is a premium example of how remarkable those "useless" lands actually are in their own right.
Point Reyes cattle operations are part of the process belonging to animal husbandry as a whole. The huge number of cattle both in the U.S. and worldwide are the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the order of that due to all transportation.
Joke if you like about cattle flatulence, but most of the climate changing methane from cow digestion emerges from the front end of the ruminant digestive tract. Ruminant stomachs can handle plants pretty much unavailable to other herbivores. Those complex plant carbohydrates became a valued, if inefficiently utilized, energy source for newly evolved ruminants, back when mammals were still finding their evolutionary way.
Cattle husbandry carries with it processes that significantly hasten our plunge over the cliff edge of climate change. This century we are at a crossroads to either do the right thing by Mother Earth or experience the likely demise of our civilizational enterprise.
This is an opportunity: We can set the action bar high, showing ourselves and the rest of the world how, here at home, it can be done right by abolishing ranching at Point Reyes.
William Klitz is a resident of Berkeley.